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Cross-scale assessment of potential habitat shifts in a rapidly changing climate

August 31, 2014

We assessed the ability of climatic, environmental, and anthropogenic variables to predict areas of high-risk for plant invasion and consider the relative importance and contribution of these predictor variables by considering two spatial scales in a region of rapidly changing climate. We created predictive distribution models, using Maxent, for three highly invasive plant species (Canada thistle, white sweetclover, and reed canarygrass) in Alaska at both a regional scale and a local scale. Regional scale models encompassed southern coastal Alaska and were developed from topographic and climatic data at a 2 km (1.2 mi) spatial resolution. Models were applied to future climate (2030). Local scale models were spatially nested within the regional area; these models incorporated physiographic and anthropogenic variables at a 30 m (98.4 ft) resolution. Regional and local models performed well (AUC values > 0.7), with the exception of one species at each spatial scale. Regional models predict an increase in area of suitable habitat for all species by 2030 with a general shift to higher elevation areas; however, the distribution of each species was driven by different climate and topographical variables. In contrast local models indicate that distance to right-of-ways and elevation are associated with habitat suitability for all three species at this spatial level. Combining results from regional models, capturing long-term distribution, and local models, capturing near-term establishment and distribution, offers a new and effective tool for highlighting at-risk areas and provides insight on how variables acting at different scales contribute to suitability predictions. The combinations also provides easy comparison, highlighting agreement between the two scales, where long-term distribution factors predict suitability while near-term do not and vice versa.